Serbs overwhelmingly support EU reforms, less keen on membership

Serbs overwhelmingly support EU reforms, less keen on membership
43% of Serbs favour EU accession, while 32% would vote against joining the bloc in a referendum. / Serbian Ministry of European Integration
By bne IntelliNews January 28, 2023

A new survey of Serbian citizens shows that a substantial majority of almost two-thirds (65%) believe that the reforms needed for Serbia’s accession to the EU should be carried out, but a considerably smaller number 43% actually want Serbia to join the EU. 

Serbia is an EU accession candidate, but support for joining the bloc has waned in recent years as the accession process has dragged on. The pressure put on Serbia to align with EU foreign policy and join Western sanctions on Russia has also caused pro-EU sentiment in the country to decline. 

The survey carried out by the Ministry of European Integration asked Serbians how they would vote if a referendum were to be held tomorrow with the question: “Do you support Serbia’s membership in the EU?” 

Aside from the 43% who said they would vote for, 32% would vote against, 13% would not vote at all, and 12% did not know how they would answer. 

38% of respondents believe that both the state and they personally would benefit (or greatly benefit) from membership in the EU.

Respondents said they believe that the biggest benefits from entry to the EU will come to businesses, but fear the impact on the agricultural sector. 

Commenting on the benefits of EU accession, 15% named the possibility of travelling within the EU, 14% said employment opportunities and 13% a path to a better future for young people. 

However, 13% said membership would put Serbia’s cultural identity at risk.

Meanwhile, 65% said the EU-required reforms should be carried out whether the country joins the bloc or not, “for the benefit of citizens and for the purpose of creating a better and more regulated Serbia”.

They named the fight against corruption and the health system reform (17% each), better protection of human rights and the education system reform (12% each) and judiciary reform (11%) as the most important reforms and as those that have the greatest impact on their daily life. 

41% said they were willing to change their current lifestyle habits for the purpose of joining the EU, through changes such as separating rubbish for recycling, paying a deposit for PET packaging and saving energy and water. 

Just 28% of respondents correctly identified the EU as the biggest donor to Serbia; as pointed out by the ministry the EU and its member states contributed €5.3bn in grants to Serbia between 2000 and 2022. Other major donors were China, Russia and Norway. 

Only one third of respondents (33%) were aware that projects funded by the EU are being implemented in Serbia, though 48% were aware of cross-border co-operation projects. 

The poll, "European Orientation of Serbian Citizens", was carried out by the ministry in mid-December 2022 among 1,050 respondents from across the country.